OnlineMastering.net Flips Its Desk To Accommodate The Requisite Direct Connection
As our mastering engineer, Andy Krehm, worked his way down to the bottom of the three year upgrade plan he came to the "upgrade wiring" note.
The majority of research indicated that a mastering studio's signal path (i.e., the route the audio travels as it moves from the mix to the master) could be improved in one of three ways. Firstly, by eliminating the TRS patch bay (standard for recording studios), upgrading the wiring and by either patching directly from unit to unit or a by using a mastering quality patch bay (very different from the TRS patch bay).
For those that need a quick primer on patch bays, studios with analog gear usually have a patch bay. This is in order to select which piece of gear they want to use and in what order without going behind the equipment racks every time they need to use a unit.
In order to use an analog unit in one's session, it has to travel to and from the patch bay and then on to the next unit. This involves many extra feet of cable plus four input and output jacks, potentially causing some degree of degradation of the audio signal. Think about how long the cables have to be to go to a patch bay and back from five or six different analog units not to mention the four jacks per unit!
So why not just connect one piece to the next with a short cable. Well, no reason at all except that we only have one control room here and our mastering engineer uses the analog gear mostly in one or two configurations and the recording/mixing guys use it in many ways. In other words, the order and amount of gear changes much more for the recording/mixing engineers than they do for the mastering engineer.
At first glance, it seemed that we couldn't do the direct wire setup for mastering because the rec/mix guys need a recording type of patch bay and the mastering patch bays are not flexible enough for use in a recording mixing setup. Our mastering engineer decided he didn't need a mastering patch bay as his current system allows him all the flexibility he needs.
So, our resident visionary, doubling as mastering engineer by day, proposed this idea to the resident mixer and tech guy. How about a designing a rack for the analog gear that rotates in order to have quick and easy access to the backs of the gear. The theory was that the mastering gear would have its short cables going "point to point" and next to each piece of gear the old cables, already wired to the patch bay, would be hanging in readiness to be swapped with the mastering cables when needed.
Ted set up a design for the new desk in Auto Cadd and after consultation with our room designer, found the best angles to minimize the sound degrading reflections that are always created by the sound from the speakers hitting various surfaces at different times.
The new desk was built, installed, looks beautiful and rotates just as planned. The mastering gear is all wired point-to-point and the mix engineers flip the rack and put their choice of analog gear into the patch bay so they can configure it for their particular session. Changing the cables around is a lot easier than it sounds and the system is working very well for us.
The main purpose of this exercise was to connect each analog unit in the mastering chain point-to-point and upgrade the wires to Requisite Cable. The wire for the recording/mixing department is "recording studio" standard, i.e., Apogee, Mogami and Canare and now the mastering wiring is "mastering studio" grade.
Oh, you probably wanted to know if there was any difference in the sound of the point-to-point Requisite wire mastering set-up as compared to the gear running though the TRS patch bay and well over a 100 feet of studio grade cable.
Well, Andy finished his mastering one day and Ted took over to put in the new cables he had prepared (the new desk/racks had previously been installed). Fortunately, there was no other session after that and so the next morning, out of curiosity, Andy pulled up his previous day's mastering session. The equipment was untouched from the day before and so all he had to do to listen to the difference was to play the last master of the day against the same mix playing through the exact same signal path but running through the new wire, point-to-point.
Well, the difference was quite obvious and remarkable. The stereo image seemed wider and deeper with more clarity and also a little bit louder. This was the second last major change in our mastering setup so stay tuned for the last!